Freedom permits us a space that is rife with the possibilities to disassemble, break, and destroy, in order to remake, reshape, and realign. But the acceptance of such a faculty demands a great deal of vigilance from those who desperately sought it out in the first place. In truth, when we seek freedom, we do not often preemptively strucure our sense of agency and act with forbearance. We untether ourselves from any and all expectation. It is only then that an experience seems more visceral, more intense, more memorable. And that is a significant insight to reach in one’s musings. Why is it that we so seek to gain a heightened intensity from our experiences? Is it perhaps that we hope that the memory would last us longer? Or do we hope to obtain enlightenment?
Yes, these are the musings of a wallflower. For in the view of such a being, a surface level reasoning is simply not enough to kickstart the carousel of an adventurous day. To overthink, to ruminate and to ponder – these are the givens of existence for any proud sideline bloomer. And perhaps the best way to describe it, is by embellishing it with a “day-in-the-life” type of walkthrough while in the Tankwa.
So there I was…
A dim hum assailed my ears on my first awakening at AfrikaBurn. We were new arrivals only but the past day, and the morning promised a quaint little expedition for the bold. So well-rested and with a sparkle in the eye, I emerged from my tent ready to set forth on an unexpected set of adventures. The Tankwa was breathing deep and heavy sighs from an early hour, and the heaves of air sent plumes of dustclouds rolling over the Binnekring.
The plain was committed to testing its desert dwellers on that day with its myriad of dust storms. So I thought it fitting to don my Sun God apparel to see if I could contest the blazing sun through the almost opaque air of the Karoo landscape.
What do we say to the god of the desert? Not Today! This was AfrikaBurn. Valar Dohaeris! All men must serve (women too… and their children, their elders, their ancestors, their imaginary friends… you pretty much had to convinve everyone to share in the communal effort of making magic in the desert). Even when the elements converged to oppose you, no citizen should shy away from the rugged landscape that beckoned.
So I pushed my tentflap aside, and emerged with a suncrown proudly donned, a bandana or two, a scarf, and some other accessories to change into my first divine desert guise… but… I had to break the glory of the moment by going back a couple of times to readjust all the pieces.
The wind was pretty merciless, so having your paraphernalia flying around was not going to feel all that ideal. My fellow campers had the same challenge, and yet the degree of their actual struggle seemed completely masked by their near effortless navigation beneath the gazebo.
Afterwards, having mounted our steeds, we cycled into our street and off into the haze of the party… And it was literally a haze; the dust was everywhere. I was convinced I found parts of the Tankwa all up and between my bits and in places I did not even know existed!
Tankwa Town and the Binnekring was already fully awakened from its short hours of slumber, and so were the sleepless… aimlessly wandering across the barrens in search of some form of worldly orientation.
You basically knew you were at AfrikaBurn when your perception, of place, space and time was not bound by your accustomed celestial cycle. And tracing that day by means of the sun and its casted shadows seemed near impossible with the churning dustclouds galloping across the open plains as far as you could dare keep your eyes open. Yes, a watch may just have helped. But is keeping track truly ANY fun when the fandango is in full swing?
I was already entrenched in my inner world though. Any possibility of keeping track with the schedule of reality (even in a fantasy world brought to life, such as the Burn) proved futile when contested with my own unique knack of getting utterly lost in my own thoughts. It was a little comparative exercise that I had grown accustomed to – taking the multi-sensory experiences back to my minscape and seeing how it measured up to all of my imagined reality. Yes, even the magic of AfrikaBurn could not hold the right of succession to take reign of my imagination. And, obviously, in that imagining I realised that I had brought quite a list of expectations to this place…
So here was the conundrum. In TankwaTown an expectation was a bit like common sense: it is a flower that does not grow in everyone’s garden.
And for that matter, it was a flower that did not take root well once it hit the rock just beneath the topsoil of the Karoo. The very nature of the event and what it placed out for the offer was mutable. Your very next adventure was likely to be changing with the dynamic energy of the day, and you would be left sorely disappointed if you clung to fast-held notions of what exactly you would be finding next. And yet, there I was with my typical wallflower mentality – I was observing and hypothesising and making ungrounded deductions of what this day would offer.
So, this pattern needed to be broken. I was pretty much following this automated construal of the world 24/7 when I was back home. So something had to be different here, didn’t it?
We winded through all kinds of colourful folk until we reached a camp called Sonskyn en Wyn (Sunshine and Wine). It certainly seemed to be the perfect little spot, with a coy enough name, to convince me that it was meant to help us unwind and just freely associate. Thus, we were welcomed by a thriving little dancefloor bustling with gyrating bodies and beautiful creatures, and set ourselves the task of hanging out for awhile. We played a claw machine to get ourselves some styrofoam cups, gifted any of the extras to strangers in the queue, and set about to the bar to fill our bellies with some warm, red swill to induce a slight sense of inebriation and loosened inhibitions.
I started noticing some boys, so I guess something was starting to work…
I soon saw that dancing was not yet something I had developed a unique, extemporaneous talent for. I was not yet whipping out the Drunken Giraffe or Crazy Train for good measure (and if you don’t know those moves, then I may need to come over for some community service). So until we were ready to rumble our temples, we had some work to do before the Burner spirit was ready take the wheel of this dirty little joyride. Just loosen up sweetie… you’ll be living your best life soon…
Perhaps the day called for another impromptu adventure. So, a little way down the road, we found a new initiative called together known as the Vagabonds. And here we found our next activity for the morning: Silent Speed Dating. Now by all the Old Gods and the New, I was basically a demure maiden when it came to taking up arms in striking up a flirty connection with someone. Even with my suncrown blazing and reflecting my self-ploclaimed, novice Burner glory, I was still a pretty reserved, blue-eyed lad when it came to what constituted the theory of attraction. Though, something I ingested happened to leave me with a drop of courage…
The whole activity required of those present to wander around the tent and find eligibles to vibe with in silence for a straight two minutes. Mostly, this involved staring point blank into the eyes of your temporary date for what felt like a small eternity. And if you were lucky, you walked away having caught something in the depths of those big, awkward, luminous orbs staring back at you. Some just stared, some smiled, some initiated more tactile ventures of excitement… but we all were laid bare in some way or another. Fun right?Well, I walked out of that little gathering with my sunrays bent haphazardly in all directions, a disheveled bush of hair, and a fogged up pair of spectacles that seemed to betray my virtue and innocence. So I guess it was a merry little time…
Now I mentioned luck, but this ‘dating’ game was not really intended to create discomfort or even walk away with a soulmate. I admit though… Did I notice the raven haired, bearded beauty who graced that tent with his broad bare torso, and lively dark eyes; that man who had a smile that could be a beacon to any one lost on the dust-shrouded Binnekring; that excuisite fox who showed me the twin suns that he had shaved at the back of his head? Of course I did! And I still reprimand my inability to have sought him out thereafter! I remembered him perhaps more clearly than the rest. His hugs were especially thrilling! (by the way, if you are him and reading this, drop a guy a hint)
But it was besides the point. The speed dating was intended to break down reservations. The whole purpose was to find a vestige of some beauty in the presence of the other and, for that matter, to expand on our very notions of what beauty can comprise. I saw another wallflower who unfolded her petals in her quiet confidence; I saw a woman who had enough love to nurture the strife of the world; and a shy young lad who adjusted his crown as he tried to be a confident prince of pride…
And in all that searching, I wondered and teased at what I saw of myself – reflected back in those many strange cosmic eyes I had felt compelled to drowned in for the briefest amount of time. But I remember walking out there, feeling particularly… lonely…
Strange isn’t it? How you could find time for such a thing as idle mind-wandering and then feel lonesome in such an unconditionally accepting and immersive place created by 14 000 people. And yet, there it was. A small seed of awareness had started germinating the moment I stepped out of that tent. Though, it was not something I attempted at giving much thought to. That would just be way too meta so early in the Burn game. To think about your thinking.
And yet, the feeling would hit me like a freight train with a full cargo moments later…
When I became inexorably, hopelessly and disastrously HIGH.
Now a few more things did fill the gap between the late morning and the afternoon when this level of ‘fun’ hit home. My fellowship played some naked tennis. Then, we organically drifted into a tent or two to curiously check things out. Afterwards, we managed to send out our warm thoughts of love (and miss an opportunity to write my will and testament) on postcards for those back home…
And I think we may have had a drink and a bite to eat afterward.
But things started to take a slightly different turn a few hours later. I remember it starting as a unique burning sensation at my core, as though my solar plexus had decided to implode and then expand in a searing light that sought to beam right through my chest. And as that volatile energy sought to leave my body in a somatic ruin, it set in motion a chain reaction of synaesthesia that sought to rewrite every cerebral code that was keeping my mind intact.
Now, I was in for quite an unforgettable experience. Imagine this: sanity, consciousness, inner turmoil, and your body… all fragmented, coalesced, detached and collided together in a seemingly endless cycle producing a little asylum theatre for whatever audience happened to be present. Meanwhile, inside you’re head, you are just having the time of your life trying to keep all your dragons in their dungeon. Yes. I was tripping irrevocably and I think I plummeted right past Alice on my way down the rabbit hole… (the bitch thought she had mastered psychedelia…).
Visually, you felt like you were caught up in the plotline of The Pagemaster, about to be consumed by the colour maelstrom when the dome artwork from the rotunda melted.
You then fight to survive an audial assault as colours swirl loudly into a unique palette of oblivion. As you try to steady yourself by making contact with anything solid, your tactile turmoil kicks off due to the delayed fire of nerve endings. Eating anything was particularly interesting. The distinction between your palate, tongue and whatever you were ingesting seemed to undergo a molecular fusion with every chewing motion as particles made contact and then seperated in an indistinct gustatory puzzle. Time slowed torturously while your awareness and body seemed to be chasing one another in circles until they smashed against one another at unscheduled untervals causing tremors to contest the Binnekring loud zone. I remember feeling as if I felt like I was clinging onto rails on the edge of a playground roundabout – spinning uncontrollably before coming to an unexpected halt. Repeatedly.
Looking back, it is hard to say what exactly may have induced the buzz state where my mind was being scrambled like an unsolved Rubik’s Cube. Perhaps I inhaled too much glitter that had worked it’s way through my cortical folds to play havoc on my amygdala and substantia nigra (because we all love contemplating a bit of biology in rationalisation of our actions). That Vagabond tent was pretty crowded with a couple of shiny fairies, so the theory seemed plausible… Or perhaps I was bewitched by a dame whose love spell backfired. I mean, my t-shirt said “Wizzard”, but I do wish someone may have told her that her act of courtship was a move at barking up the wrong tree.
It could also be that my thoughts were just churning about so violently already that my mind just got sucked into that vortex of discombobulation . Or, maybe it was a UFO; one was making the rounds on the Binnekring Road. That was definitely it. I am sure. Damn extraterrestrials!
I mean, there were so many strange encounters after that cookie… it could have been anything really…
One thing was for sure: I lost myself in a kaleidoscopic blur, where iridescent hues melded in a wonderfully chaotic ruin, and distant melodies morphed into a tribal cacophony; my wild spirit never had a better cue to go and dance wildly in the dust…
And boy, some part of me sure was lost for quite a bit before it decided to come back; so that may just have happened. And the rest of me was left behind to enjoy a party for one in a lumpy little shaking heap of disorientation and a seesaw state of consciousness.
From witness accounts (only two, thank God), it seemed that I remained in a near catatonic cycle of rocking back and forth with my hands pressing down on my skull to keep everything contained. All sensation had slowed to a point where minute moments felt elongated, lengthened, stretched out, stretched thin, and even perpetual…
So what was really happening in that shred of consciousness that was left to me that day?
Cue a throwback to the Vagabond tent, with my little “lost-in-thought” moment and feeling of being lonely, and I realised I actually was tangent to a deep truth that I was maybe attempting to suppress. It was certainly something that was playing at the edge of concern that day. But in this very instance, that bleak little monster that represented that strange feeling was a dark, numbing wraith that wrapped ghostly tendrils around my inner defences… and shattered them. I was sure that spirits danced across the Binnekring when the ancient Karoo night unwrapped itself at night to reveal the mysteries that lay beyond the stratosphere, but I wondered what ghosts each Burner carried along with them. For I sure did not intend to encounter this kind of adversary in this magical place…
But what it was, what it represented, and why it was particularly isolated to draw my attention with such vehemence, remained clear.
It got me wondering, for weeks afterward, at what skeletons decided to snatch onto everone’s luggage when they decided to open their closets for packing. For if we all face our demons at some point, this was surely mine. And I was facing it now. And who knows how many others among the desert horde faced theirs that night as well. For in that altered state of consciousness, all else is stripped away, revealing the very darkest parts of you to be more clear and more vulnerable than they possibly may have ever been before.
And perhaps my acceptance of the perks of being a wallflower did have this small consequence: to get lost so effectively due my idle mind-wandering so as to be isolated in the barrens of the unconscious… where no one could join or tell me that they left a light on if I decided to return…
How many scars remain invisible and unacknowledged as they spread through our souls in our inability to give stock to our hidden desires and conflicts? As our daily hassles tax us; as our life struggles drain us; and as we are challenged to acknowledge more authentic versions of ourselves, how far do we go to escape the island of misfit toys – that self-created realm where we rationalise, over compensate, and repress to cope with our broken selves? And what is more, does AfrikaBurn become our metaphorical Kintsukuroi (金繕い, “golden repair”) where the history of our breakage becomes part of our enduring beauty? Was this one of the dreaded expectations that creeped its way into consciousness when one found oneself in a place that could offer some sense of healing. Did we need healing?
It did set in motion a little mental hiatus to engage in some reflection. In fact, the crucial importance of this period was almost sacrosanct in its significance; paramount to whatever I clearly needed to face. My preference for my inner world may have removed me too much from a place that required my presenence and mindful engagement.
The truth is that even a wallflower needs to unroot themselves from their mounted garden on the wall, especially when magic is being made.
But here is perhaps, the catch-22. Dismounting from your high horse and riding from you realm of comfort does not imply that you go seek out your dragons in places that you are not prepared to face them. I had posed the question at the start of this entry of our tendency to so desperately strive for the intensity of our experiences, and if we perhaps sought that this intensity would secure its permanence in memory. But as was said, reserving an expectation for an event such as AfrikaBurn was prone to lead to discontentment. So in other words, pushing too hard in a desire for novelty, change, and even healing was bound to be a staggering plotline that would leave you as the playwright sorely rattled and despondent. To state it even more simply, perhaps I had plunged to deep into my own ruminations… and the conduct I perused to achieve that dive set me into maelstrom of my own inner conflicts.
Most importantly fellow Burner, remember: just because a Bad Trip can be made to sound like an epic undertone to the Divine Comedy, don’t try this at home kids! Dante’s Inferno is not the only place where you will poetically discover that hell has nine levels!
For me, that confrontation stole close to half of that fateful day. It found me stumbling out of my tent to find the rose and gold hues of light glowing softly on the horizon. I knew I asked myself more than once why the sunset was in the wrong place? It was only after my companions discovered that their wallflower had drifted out on the street again, that some alarm spread through our little camp. I mean, I could have lost myself anywhere really… if I had not fully recovered. I could have just ventured on into our neighbour’s little boudoir, and they happened to be a tribe of lost boys already.
It was also after some gentle guidance that I was made aware that it was morning.
The loud zone of the Binnekring was an interesting little role player in this perception of time, as music never ceased through the night and continued right into the morning… a faint and distant rumble powerful enough to alter your perception.
All in all, I think I was broken in quite nicely if I do say so myself. Donning the guise of a deity, while hyper jumping right into my unconscious turmoils to face my abyss until the early morning hours. All before the crack of dawn! I would say this was shaping up to be quite the formative experience.
Until the recounted tale continues…
Love and Light fellow bloomers.